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Anxiety Dreams –Meaning, Types, and Ways to Prevent Its Re-occurrences

Anxiety Dreams –Meaning, Types, and Ways to Prevent Its Re-occurrences

Updated on Jan 23, 2023 | Published on Jan 23, 2023

Reviewed by Katina Tarver, MA (Mental Health and Wellness Counseling) , Life Coach

Anxiety Dreams –Meaning, Types, and Ways to Prevent Its Re-occurrences

Anxiety dreams are intense, disturbing, and unpleasant night visions that either cause extreme dread and discomfort or leave the dreamer in dismay and confusion. These dreams are a surreal mix of pain, suffering, childhood trauma, conflicts, and confrontations with someone in real life.

Usually, the emotional undertone is so strong that it leaves the dreamer in a state of shock and nervousness. These unpleasant dreams come under the category of nightmares because they are intense and frightening, and appear at a time when the dreamer is actually moving through a lot of distress in waking life.

Let’s uncover the secrets of why these dreams occur along with what the scientific evidence has to say about their occurrences and prevalence rates in real life.

Anxiety dreams – meaning

Anxiety dreams are fearful and uneasy dream themes that cause a lot of dread, worry, and angst in the dreamer. These images are intense and high on emotions and thereby lead to a lot of mental agony in the dreamer.

Most people will wake up after seeing a disturbing and fearful dream theme. All these uneasy images carry a sense of oppression that the dreamer finds hard to get away with even after waking up. 

Many of these anxiety dreams are either related to some disturbing real-life circumstances that the dreamer is going through in his/her waking life or it could also hint at some past trauma trying to peep into the subconscious mind for a final bid adieu.

Dreams are freaky and strange however they tell us a lot about the waking life situations of the dreamer. Anxiety dreams reveal hidden secrets of the unconscious mind. It tells about the trauma-laden sufferings that were heavy on the dreamer’s heart. Maybe the anxious dream theme is a subconscious manifestation of the buried pains, nothing else.

It may happen when the dreamer is actually experiencing some emotionally charged situation in waking life. Anxiety dreams are manifestations of real-life distress that the person is unable to resolve in reality and thus it’s making their way into the dream world.

Any dream theme that leaves the dreamer in a state of shock, dread, embarrassment, fear, and insecurity can be termed anxiety dreams. The dreamer may wake up in a pool of sweat as if astonished or confused about what the night vision was all about.

Study findings and interpretation of anxiety dreams

A close look into these dream themes will reveal the suffering of some kind that the dreamer has already experienced in the past or in recent times in their daily lives. Dreams of this sort are scary and laden with a lot of fear and uneasiness.

If anxiety dreams are a recurring phenomenon for you, it is evident that your good night’s sleep will no longer remain good. Many of such anxious dream themes will cause premonition of something bad that can happen in the future.

An anxiety dream is any dream that is distressing, and surreal, and leads to disrupted sleep or no sleep at all. Research studies on anxiety dreams have revealed that people who are suffering from mood disorders, generalized anxiety disorders, and panic disorders may see disturbing images of fearful situations in their dreams. 

Thus, these individuals will rate their dreams as charged-up and disturbing. This study also revealed that real-life stress, anxiety, and depressive mood states can alter the mental state of the person, thereby forcing them to see what is not getting recognized in real life.

Sigmund Freud revealed long ago in his famous book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ that the anxious component that surfaces in dreams reveals hidden trauma, conflicts, and unresolved emotional issues of the dreamer’s waking life. 

According to him, anxiety dreams manifest fear and dread, unpleasantness, and emotional toxicity that was repressed and never allowed to surface in the waking life situation of the dreamer’s life. Thus, the real-life events that were non-acceptable in reality tried to peep inside the dream world.

A lot of panic and nervousness occurs while the dream is being seen and thereafter. The dreamer remembers some or part of what they saw in the dream. This happens because the dream was emotionally overwhelming and uneasy.

Other research studies

A research study by Rimsh A and Pietrowsky R (2021) revealed interesting facts about the dream content of patients with anxiety disorders and those of the controlled group without the disorder. The aim of the study is to see the variations of the dream content and the meanings it carried in reality.

There were 38 participants suffering from clinical anxiety and the same number of controlled subjects for the study. The participants from both groups were told to maintain a dream diary where they are to describe the theme and content as much as they remember. 

From the dream diary data, the researchers have found significant differences in the dream content of the two groups. The dreams of anxiety patients revealed more characters and emotionally charged occurrences that they have experienced in the dream. 

There were lower numbers of friendly interactions and more aggression, irritability, and nervousness in the dream theme. All these components were completely missing in the dream content of normal people without the clinical anxiety diagnosis.

There were clear differences in the dream images and content between the two groups. Anxiety dreams reveal the repressed fear, agony, and misfortune that never got the chance to get revealed in the waking life of the dreamer.

Why do Anxiety dreams happen?

Scientific pieces of evidence have proved that anxiety dreams are scary dream themes that unleash a lot about the past and present-day happenings of the dreamer’s life. Now, it’s time to analyze why these dreams occur and whether is there anything we can do to stop their re-occurrences in the sleep state.

Anxiety dreams can be caused by some ongoing stress of waking life. If you are persistently worried about certain real-life issues, you may feel anxious before going to bed. The apprehension and worries may get into the dream state as well. A study conducted in 2003 has proved that adults with generalized anxiety disorder and constant worries in waking life are susceptible to bad dreams. 

Sometimes general anxiety dreams can be manifestations of some perceived threat in real life. For example, if you are worried about your examination, you may dream about being late for the examination, or you could see a failed endeavor from your end. These dreams are also responses to some perceived threats that are not real but cause a lot of fear.

These dreams may appear when you are feeling unprepared in real life, or are insecure about your ability to achieve things successfully. So, anxiety dreams can be metaphoric as well.

Some of the general factors causing anxiety dreams are as follows:

  • Fear or stress of some real-life event
  • Traumatic events
  • Significant life changes such as job loss, death in the family, moving to a new city, etc.
  • Insomnia that is chronic
  • Substance abuse can cause bad dreams

20 Types of Dreams That Can Cause Anxiety and Create Havoc in Your Life

Do we have much control over what we see in dreams? No. Anxiety dreams can make you feel perplexed and fearful in no time. You may wake up in great fear about what you have just seen in the dream. Sometimes, these dreams have various themes and all these dream themes are scary and induce a lot of fear and worry.

At times, anxiety dreams are full of angst and the discomfort stays longer with you than you have expected. The negative thoughts of real-life incidents make their way into the dream state. 

In this section, we will talk about some of the most common anxiety dreams that cause a lot of fear and anxiety in the person. Each dream will be described in such a manner so that you can connect the dots between real-life stress and what you saw as a night vision.

1. Dream of being drowned underwater

This dream theme symbolizes a scary situation where there is a sense of helplessness in the dreamer. Water in dreams also denotes overwhelming emotions that are negative and out of control. This anxiety dream signifies insecurity, a sense of fear about some misfortune of waking life. 

When you dream about drowning in deep waters with no help around, it symbolizes your perplexed state of mind. You are feeling uncontrolled about something in your waking life as if you are drowned in worries that have clouded your thoughts completely.

2. Dream of being chased and attacked 

This dream theme induces a lot of fear because it shows you an uncontrolled situation in the dream state where someone or something is trying to cause serious harm to you. If your waking life relationships are full of turmoil, or your workplace connections are full of jealousy, you may carry the fear of being harmed by someone all the time in your waking life. 

This fear of being harmed or attacked can turn into a chasing dream very soon. Your sleeping brain will pick up the fear elements and start showing you anxious images of someone chasing you in a dream.

3. Dream of teeth falling out

Teeth falling out are a very common dream theme. Research findings have revealed the physiological and psychological correlates of this anxiety dream. This dream symbolizes a sense of powerlessness in some events of waking life. Sometimes, you may get this anxiety dream because of low self-esteem. If you are not satisfied with your worth, you may feel like losing a precious passion that you have, as if a part of your ‘self’ is stripped off you in a subtle way.

4. Dreaming of earthquakes

When you dream of an earthquake, you may wake up in a pool of sweat in the middle of the night. The dream has so much of a fear element in it that anxiety is inevitable. You may get panic attacks as well. This dream theme symbolizes instability, powerlessness, and overwhelming emotions of waking life. 

As these dreams are just a symbolic manifestation of waking life fear and instability, they may not signify any real earthquake. Your sleeping brain is giving you a clear image of an impending disaster that can ruin your real-life peace in no time.

5. Dreams about flooding and high tides

According to Carl Jung, water represents uncontrolled emotions. Thus any dream theme where you see lots of water trying to control your survival be sure that you are going through some emotional crisis in waking life. 

High tides or tidal waves represent your inner restlessness and pessimism. You are losing your confidence to sail through the trying times in your waking life. The dream is a symbolic explanation of your inner emotional state. 

Flooding also denotes that you’re trapped in a troublesome situation in real life with no help to be seen around; signifying a helpless feeling.

6. Dream of being Naked in public

This dream is no doubt scary and humiliating. This dream symbolizes a lack of self-esteem, or your struggle to prove yourself worthy in the social space. An anxiety dream of this kind represents embarrassment, shame, or guilt about some incident in your waking life that has actually left you in deep unease and awkwardness.

7. Dream of fire in the house or around you

This dream carries a negative meaning in the dream world and causes a lot of mental discomfort and fear in the minds of the dreamer. Fire in dreams is symbolic of impending danger and loss in waking life. With all the anxiety and fear, this dream symbolizes repressed anger about an uncontrolled situation in waking life. 

Sometimes, fire also means frustration, a lack of power to attain what you have wished for in real life. This dream also means a burnout state where your adaptive mechanism has fallen off completely.

8. Dream about Lack of preparation for a test

If you see a dream where you are not able to answer any question after sitting for an examination, then this dream indicates fear of failure and loss of self-confidence in waking life. You are not prepared to embrace any future change that can happen in waking life. 

Research studies have confirmed that this dream also represents an inability to trust one’s abilities. The dreamer may feel less prepared because his or her confidence level has gone down to a great extent.

9. Dream about getting late for some important commitment

A dream about getting late for school or for work can indicate that you are feeling lesser in some way or the other in your waking life. This dream symbolizes your poor confidence level. You are always feeling a step behind others in the real world. 

Running late is a stressful dream because of the overwhelming negative emotions that these dreams carry outside of the real world. If you are losing your confidence about a work project, you may see this kind of dream theme.

10. Falling dream meaning

This is a common dream scenario that symbolizes a loss of control or grip on a significant situation in waking life. This type of anxiety dream may appear when the dreamer is actually trying to get hold of something important in real life but is unable to do so. You are hanging on to something that is already losing and you may fall off any moment. Your present-day real-life situation is shaky and unpredictable and you are not feeling protected anyhow.

11. Dream of forgetting something significant

When you dream about forgetting something important, it signifies the presence of too much stress in waking life. You’re in a state of emotional meltdown in real-life and thus your dream is showing your forgetful state of mind. 

This dream could be related to examination dreams where you seem to forget what you have learned. Another dream scenario could be you are on a stage and you forgot what you should be speaking about. 

These dreams hint at nervousness and lack of confidence in waking life. Maybe there are certain daily life issues that are putting a lot of mental pressure upon you. You’re unable to resolve it and the dream is just showing your mental restlessness and a powerless feeling.

12. Dream of reckless driving

At times, you may dream about driving a vehicle that has lost control. This dream is a scary vision and it hints at your uncontrolled life situation that is making you feel stuck in despair and suffering. You are anxious and fearful of certain issues that might cause significant harm in your waking life. 

This dream symbolizes your sense of panic, lack of control, powerlessness, and emotional burden. Sometimes this dream also represents a lack of direction in waking life. You are unsure of the road ahead and are feeling confused about your next course of action in real-life.

13. Dream of people laughing at you

If you are dreaming of laughing humiliation lately, it signifies your fear of being ridiculed in social circles. In real-life you might be harboring some kind of fear that can cause humiliation and a sense of shame. This dream symbolizes the social anxiety, shame, and guilt of the dreamer. 

The anxiety of being ridiculed or embarrassed in real life can show up as scary night visions as well. Your anxieties can relate to people who surround you in real-life. There could be toxic forces in your waking life who want you to fail, or not do well in life. 

Your sleeping brain is showing the humiliation that may or may not happen in reality. It could be mind musings only, nothing else.

14. Dreaming about examination results

This is a common anxiety dream for students to see their results coming out, especially if the real results are on their way soon. This dream symbolizes the pressure of performance in real life. This dream is a symbolic representation of your goals and ambitions, confidence, and success. If you dream about failing an exam, it represents your poor self-image. 

You are not confident of your abilities in real life. At times, this dream theme represents fear of failure, hopelessness, and lack of clarity about your future goals and aspirations. The real-life stress of winning and performing can turn into anxiety dreams of this sort. 

You are just to relax in real-life and find out ways to rejuvenate your lost confidence. In this way, this anxiety dream can be controlled and its re-occurrence can be reduced to a large extent.

15. Death of a loved one

This dream is just freaky and can leave you in despair and deep agony. When you see death in the dream it symbolizes your deep love for the deceased soul. You are not over the loss yet and want to enjoy your lost connection for a few minutes in the dream state. 

This dream symbolizes real-life suffering that is hard to get rid of. Your anxious mind relays the same story of pain and suffering in the dream state. 

The death of a loved one symbolizes your buried wish of getting the person back into your life. You are missing the bonding and the dream connects you to your loved one again. You are still mourning the loss in waking life and the dream is giving you more anxiousness to relive the moments of togetherness just by chance.

16. Dream of being cheated upon 

If you are anxious about your current relationship status and are doubtful about the authenticity of your partner in waking life, this dream is just a fearful representation of your real-life insecurity and fear about the relationship. This dream may not represent real-life cheating but shows your innate fears and lack of protection in the bonding. This dream signifies a lack of trust between partners, a one-sided affair, and also tells you to remain cautious about subtle signs of real-life cheating.

17. End of the world in dreams

The dream theme symbolizes a clear-cut connection with your restless emotional state in waking life. You are carrying emotional baggage in real-life and the end of the world is a mere representation of hopelessness, sorrow, and anxiety. 

This dream signifies uncertainty, unhappiness, and confusion about where you are heading in your waking life. The end of the world gives you a feeling of nothingness and despair. It represents your sense of protection that ceases to exist all of a sudden leaving you in insecurity and uncertainty in waking life.

18. Dream of insects or bugs crawling upon you

This mysterious dream is quite scary and terrifying. It can leave you in dismay long after you are awake from your dream state. This dream is symbolic of the emotional burden that you are not able to let go of in your waking life. Bugs in dreams also mean a lot of real-life troubles that are bothering you one after the other. 

Sometimes, insects like spiders, cockroaches, bugs, and rats may be seen swirling around you in dreams. All these insects represent the presence of toxic people around you who are trying to harm you silently in your waking life. The dream foretells future issues and warns you to stay cautious in your real life. 

19. Losing your hair in dreams

A dream of this sort symbolizes a lack of inner strength as if you are losing something that is most precious to you. You are losing a grip on your confidence and worth. If you dream about hair loss and that others are making fun of you, then this dream symbolizes social anxiety. You have fears of being judged and criticized in waking life. 

20. Trapped somewhere in the dream

When you dream of a place from where you are unable to find an exit, it symbolizes your trapped emotions and insecurities. Your waking life is full of anxious thoughts of not being able to hold things tightly. You are losing control of the events that are important. 

This loss of grip on real-life circumstances can hamper your good night’s sleep. If you are anxious about your job or relationships in real life, this dream could be a manifestation of your real-life fears and insecurities. 

Trapped dreams are sticky feelings of being caged in one place. You’re feeling heavy inside and a sense of insecurity and lack of protection pervades throughout your mental state.

Effect of anxiety dreams on mental health

Unpleasant dreams cause stress and anxiety and impact the mental health of the person. Some of the harmful effects of anxiety dreams are as follows:

  • Sense of constant fear and anxiety after waking life
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Tiredness and mental fatigue persists after waking up if you try to assign various meanings to your dreams
  • Loss of happiness
  • Bitter mood states
  • Worries about how the dream could affect your waking life
  • Visualizing worst-case scenarios that will never happen in reality 
  • Poor sleep quality

Ways to stop and prevent anxiety dreams

Anxiety dreams are bad experiences that the dreamer may try to forget after waking up but in reality, it is a tough job to do. In most cases, the emotions attached to such scary dream scenarios are intense and disturbing. The dreamer is left with no choice but to suffer in and out of their dream state. 

To help you overcome the aftermath of these dreams, it is important to either stop their re-occurrences or do something to prevent them from happening again in the person’s night visions.

The anxious dreams interfere with sleep quality only to find you in complete mayhem.

1. Emptying your mind before retiring from the day

If you are getting anxiety dreams quite often, it is important for you to empty your mind completely before going to bed. In this way, you will neither think about the to-do lists of the next day nor will you try to relate past circumstances with the present moments. A complete switch-off is essential to prevent anxiousness from disturbing your night’s sleep.

2. Practice some good sleep habits as a ritual every day

If you are really looking out for ways to fix anxiety dreams, it’s important to relax and meditate before sleep. You need to switch off from your electronic gadgets and engage in a calming activity with your eyes closed. You can choose to put the lights of the room dim so that there are no external disturbances at the moment. This activity will help to deal with stress and anxiety. Stress dreams can be overcome by keeping your mind away from the clutter of the entire day.

3. Progressive muscle relaxation

Poor sleep can cause bad dreams and it is vital that you stretch your arms and legs before retiring to bed. This technique is used to relax the muscles of the body and helps to fall asleep faster. Relaxing the body can eliminate stress and anxiety out of your body. The nerves appear cool and the muscles are relaxed and free moving.

4. Keep your worries away from the sleep

You can actually do this by journaling your worrisome thoughts of the day. This writing is good practice to vent out feelings that were not processed throughout the day. Write all your worries, unfulfilled wishes, regrets, and remorse on a piece of paper before going to bed. 

Allow yourself to experience all the negative emotions and learn to let go of these thoughts so that your mind is switched off from these thoughts before the actual sleep process begins. In this way, your dreams will no longer show you distressing scenes that are frightening and uncomfortable.

5. Image rehearsal therapy (IRT)

If anxiety dreams are causing mayhem in your life, your doctor may prescribe sleep medicine or tell you to undergo image rehearsal therapy. This is usually a good technique to curb nightmares and bad dreams. Recurring bad dreams can cause intense fear and discomfort in the dreamer. 

Through this technique, the dreamer is told to think about the happy ending of the dream. For example, if you are having recurring dreams of driving an uncontrolled car, it’s obvious that you are visualizing an accident scene with wreckage and bloodshed all around. In IRT, you can alter the ending by visualizing a scene where your car bumped into a big tree only. The magnitude of the disaster was small and manageable. 

This technique makes the dream scenario less distressing and the dreamer feels more in control of what they have seen in the dream.

6. Working with a clinical psychologist

If you are suffering from generalized anxiety disorders and need some professional help to overcome the anxiety dreams, you should also think of consulting a mental health professional and seek their valuable advice. Dealing with your real-life anxiety can actually settle your anxious dreams to a great extent. Moreover, your sleep quality will improve and you will be able to handle various real-life stressors causing bad dreams to some extent.

Parting words from ‘ThePleasantDream’

If you are frequently bogged down by anxiety dreams or stress dreams in your waking life, it’s time to peep inside your inner world. Your unconscious mind may be carrying the heavy burden of insecurity and fear deep inside. It’s time to dig out the fear and start living a life of peace. 

Although anxiety dreams are terrifying and scary, they can also help you resolve real-life conflicts. These dreams can help you learn the process of letting go and evolve yourself to handle emotions in a better way. 

There is no total cure for anxiety dreams however you can always use self-help coping skills to lessen the impact of these frightening dreams in your waking life. Stop remembering the dreams while you’re awake and never try to assign too many meanings to what you saw in your dreams. After all, a dream is just a dream, and may not be a reality at all.